By: Peter J. Tomasi (story), Patrick Gleason (pencils), Mick Gray, Mark Irwin, Norm Rapmund (inks), John Kalisz (colors)
The Story: Contrary to appearances, Batman and Aquaman are not here for whale-watching.
The Review: It must be rather comforting to come from a family in the resurrection business. I don’t know if that’s exactly where all the Al Ghul’s get their death-defying steeliness, but I imagine it helps them get through the day, knowing if they happened to perish by assassin’s blade or errant bomb that they have some extra insurance on the side. Anyway, the point is we should all have expected Damian to come back even before he died.
Despite that, it’s not certain that’s where Bruce’s current search for his son’s body will end up. Although it seems natural for this series to eventually restore Robin to its title at some point, this Batman and… tactic has gone on far longer than you thought. Tomasi doesn’t seem in any hurry to bring back the Boy Wunderkind anytime soon, even though this issue puts Damian back squarely in Bruce’s focus, after the thrilling distraction of Two-Face’s rampage.
The difference now is that Bruce is no longer in it to bring his son back from the dead; he’s already had his fill on that merry-go-round, and so have we. That particular task is best left to the expert on rising from the dead—or perhaps not. Ra’s is a power-mad villain, after all, and his motivations are a little obscure. Besides, Tomasi has always made it clear that this forcible resurrection business is an ugly, disturbing one, no matter if it’s Bruce or Ra’s at the wheel. In fact, there’s something very chilling in the cool, professional manner in which Ra’s seals his daughter and grandson in sarcophagi, hooked to unknown power sources and pumping unknown substances inside.
Not in this respect alone does Ra’s reveal himself to be quite nearly as mad as all the other Bat-villains, in spite of his tactical genius. You’d think someone with his immortal experience and intelligence would rise above the needlessly grotesque, but Ra’s has no qualms about gestating mutant super-soldiers in the wombs of sperm whales,* just to deliver an emotionally devastating blow to his mortal enemy. Now we know where Talia gets it.
I must say, it’s rather impressive that Tomasi leverages what was an almost throwaway plot point in Batman Inc. to bring in an unusual candidate for Batman’s monthly companion. Still, Aquaman makes for an interesting choice because he’s still, despite his ongoing, a bit of a dark horse, with no established dynamics with any other Leaguers except the now-estranged Martian Manhunter. In this issue, with both Bruce and Arthur fixated on their respective agendas, there’s little opportunity to develop a specific rapport between them. Beyond sharing a no-nonsense attitude towards injustice, Aquaman really ends up being more of a splashy, crab and whale-summoning guest star than a crucial part of the story.
I defy anyone to read this issue and still not consider Gleason one of the unsung artistic champions at DC. For all of the praise given to Chris Burnham during his Batman Inc. run, he didn’t highlight the horror of Talia’s work the way Gleason does here. There’s the sight of all those whales drying out on the sand, their ribs cracked, splintered, and protruding from their bellies, several others hanging from cranes as if on a gibbet. Or the splash page of all the Damian super-soldier clones in various stages of malformation too gruesome to describe. Gleason’s greatness is that he doesn’t wallow in the horror; he brings a dignity and pathos to it that evokes as much pity and grief from you as disgust.
Conclusion: Tomasi doesn’t make the best use of his guest star, but it’s a spectacular good time nonetheless, promising more to come.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: * Everyone keeps referring to them as sperm whales, but am I crazy for thinking that they look more like humpbacks or greys?
– Next stop, Paradise Island. I’d love to see whether Tomasi brings back any of the old romance between Bruce and Diana, although that’d be a bit awkward now, seeing how she’s going out with his best friend right now. I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure Bruce would be a strict adherent to the “bros before hos” policy.